In late 2019, the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) was discovered, which led to a global pandemic. The virus is well known for how rapidly it changes, so ever since its discovery, it has changed into a couple of variants.
Post-COVID-19 pandemic, different variants have been discovered, such as Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron. Given the nature of the virus, there may be new variants because of how rapidly it changes. The names of the COVID-19 variants given by the World Health Organisation (WHO) were derived from the Greek alphabet.
The first variant- the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), was discovered in November 2020. This first case of this variant was in the UK, but not long after, it spread fast worldwide. It then became the most common variant in the US and is currently the most common in Canada.
The Alpha variant is known to be quite contagious, but when mutated, it is not only more contagious but more harmful to the immune system. It is said to be 30 to 50% more infectious than SARS-CoV-2.
Studies were made to know if vaccines work on this variant. From the studies, the AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer vaccine, Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and Moderna vaccine were all proven to prevent the dangerous effect of the Alpha variant.
The Beta variant (501.v2 or B.1.351) was first spotted in South Africa. The variant’s mutation (N501Y) makes it way more infectious and easy to spread and is labelled along with other variants as ‘variants of concern.’ The Beta variant also carries another mutation called E484K, which enables the virus to escape the immune system of the person that has contracted it.
Although the virus has undergone some changes, the chances of contracting it remain the highest for the elderly.
In South Africa, this variant’s death rate and hospitalisation increased by 20% in the second wave. The variant has currently circulated across the world in over 48 countries and was discovered in 23 states in the US, while the UK has recorded over a thousand cases.
The E484K mutation will likely affect how vaccines work on the body. Studies have been carried out, and none of the vaccines has been proven to be 100% efficient against this variant but taking them plays a part in fighting it.
The Delta variant was first spotted in India in 2020, spreading rapidly there and eventually reaching the UK and the US. The variant spread fast across the UK, significantly increasing hospitalisation and making it the dominant variant. The United States also added Delta to their list of ‘variants with concern’ even though they had not recorded any case then.
The variant is said to be very contagious. Studies say that it is 50% faster at spreading than the Alpha variant and like earlier mentioned, the Alpha COVID-19 variant is 50% more contagious than the COVID-19 virus.
Getting vaccinated is the best means of protection against this variant. People that have not been vaccinated are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Most cases with terrible outcomes are primarily in places where the vaccine rate is low.
The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa in November 2021. Around the same period, individuals in England, Nigeria, and the United States were also said to have contracted the new variant.
Omicron can be contracted and spread easier than the other variants whether you have been vaccinated or not.
Compared to other variants, Omicron causes less severe cases of infection. The variant causes more lenient diseases even though some cases of death and hospitalisation may still occur.
To be safe, people are advised to take the COVID-19 vaccine because people who have been vaccinated and later contract this variant are less likely to get severe infections than those who haven’t taken it at all.
No one knows how many more variants will come, so one should get vaccinated during this period, follow COVID-19 protocol, and stay safe.